What's the Difference Between Endurance and Stamina? How Can You Improve Both?


Endurance and stamina are two terms closely associated with physical activity and performance. We may tend to use them interchangeably when it comes to researching how to improve our performance in aerobic exercise, for example running. 

Even though you can indeed use either, there are subtle differences between the terms and, subsequently, what you would focus on when you work on either of them.

What is the difference between “endurance” and “stamina” and how do these terms apply to running and physical activity performance? How can you improve your stamina and your endurance?

All those who practice a form of endurance exercise – from long-distance running to endurance biking, through hiking or beyond – will be interested in improving their aerobic capacity, their muscular endurance, and their mental focus and resilience. So, in this article, we’ll look at:

  • Everything you need to know about stamina and endurance;
  • Why you need to work on both;
  • Tips to develop endurance and stamina;
  • Workouts you can try.

Is There a Difference Between Endurance and Stamina?

Firstly, we need to look at the common definition of these two terms to determine when they are most appropriate.

Running - Endurance vs stamina - Run Trails

Stamina is usually employed to refer to energy – it can be seen as the opposite of fatigue. You might consider that you have stamina if you feel particularly energetic or up for high-intensity interval training one morning, for example. Finally, stamina is mostly associated with your short-term aerobic capacity and your explosive muscular power.

Endurance refers to your body’s ability to sustain a type of exercise for a prolonged period of time. This is linked with two sources: cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance. 

The first is your cardio capability – the ability of your heart and lungs to deliver oxygen throughout your body efficiently and, in this case, for an extended period. 

The second refers to your muscles’ ability to work on a continuous basis for a long period of time – not at their maximum capacity, but at a level that keeps you going for longer.

Stamina Explained

Depending on which sources you refer to, stamina is almost always associated with the ability to exercise at your highest performance level – usually, that is your maximum heart rate. Stamina is talked about in relation to sprinting, high-energy intense workouts and sports where a round or a match doesn’t last very long. 

To work on your stamina, you would focus on explosive power and physical capability to reach your top level of performance, but for a short time. 

Running - Stamina vs endurance - Run Trails

Is stamina important for a long-distance runner? As we’ve seen with hill workouts and speed intervals, pushing your aerobic capacity to the max and developing a higher threshold of exhaustion can have multiple benefits for your running. 

It will build strength, long-term endurance and mental resilience. So yes, stamina is an important area to focus on for running longer distances, too. 

Endurance Explained

When we talk about endurance, we refer to both cardiovascular and muscular endurance, as previously explained. When you focus on endurance, you are not prioritizing force explosive movements, but rather your ability to maintain a certain level of exercise intensity for a longer period of time. 

Cardiovascular endurance means the ability of your heart to pump through oxygen to muscles continuously for extended periods of time. The longer you can train to efficiently fuel your muscles, with the oxygen from cardio endurance and with additional fueling (that we’ll discuss below), the further you’ll be able to go during your preferred form of exercise. 

For some, this means running a marathon – for others, it could be about cycling hundreds of miles. Exercise time and intensity varies, and you will adapt the endurance concept to what performance means to you.

Muscular endurance is defined by the ability of your muscle groups to sustain you during the physical activity of your choice. For marathon runners, for example, this means the extent to which their legs are able to carry them for the whole 26.2 miles. 

Do You Need Both Stamina AND Endurance?

The short answer: yes!

Both stamina and endurance are required to train the body to perform a physical activity for longer. In the case of running, training both will gradually allow you to increase the distances you cover, but also build your speed for the same amount of distance run. 

It is a good idea to train endurance and stamina at the same time, so that you’re not focusing purely on long slow workouts as part of your running routine. 

In fact, alternating workouts that focus on speed vs. endurance (distance or time on feet) is what keeps running training interesting and allows anyone, from a beginner to an experienced runner, to stay motivated and make running fun. 

Finally, training your stamina though high-intensity exercise builds resilience and confidence. Studies show the huge importance of rate of perceived effort and mental exertion on performance. 

By regularly pushing yourself to work harder, you develop the confidence in your abilities that you will need during longer workouts to keep going. And it builds your muscle strength, too!

Endurance focus needs to be weighed against your goals and fitness levels. Polarized training theories suggest that you should spend up to 80% of your training time doing lower-intensity exercise, and only 20% of your time at high intensity. 

This avoids the risk of overtraining and developing injuries, and builds the long-term exercise capacity that you need to complete an endurance event. Developing both your cardio and your strength endurance are key for performance in long events, as they will each play a role against fatigue and rate of perceived exertion. 

How to Develop Endurance and Stamina

If you want to increase your running fitness, including both high-intensity sessions and long runs will help develop endurance and stamina. Additionally, here are some tips that will make you a better runner all-around.

Endurance vs stamina running - Run Trails

Make sure you have a varied running routine

Mixing up the types of workouts you do is key to staying motivated and having fun. You can do speed intervals at a standard running track or on the road, add in a long run on trails to protect your joints from too much pounding on the pavement, and do a few easy recovery runs during the week.

We’ve mentioned the 80/20 rule: make sure your runs are mostly in the lower-intensity end of the spectrum, so you’re not over-reaching. One speed workout a week should be enough for a beginner runner to develop stamina at the start. 

Progress gradually

It is important not to overtrain and cause too much stress on your body, whether you focus on stamina or endurance. Instead of running 10 miles on your first long run after you’ve had a break, increase mileage progressively over 3-4 weeks (e.g. starting with a 6-mile long run, then 8, then 10). The same goes for your speed sessions: start with 1-minute intervals, then gradually move up to 5-minute bursts. Ensure you’re always including recovery time and recovery runs, too!

Include intense exercise into your training

To get faster, you need to practice running faster! Include speed work, such as fartlek training or short speed workouts on the track, once a week to begin with. You could also do some cross-training to build cardiovascular fitness, such as spin classes once a week. 

Don’t neglect strength training

Strength and conditioning sessions are a key part of building muscular strength, but also of increasing range of motion and agility so that you can avoid getting injured. You can add plyometrics in your strength routine to focus on short bursts of power, which will build your stamina, too.

Make time to rest

Exercising needs to be complemented by appropriate time for rest and recovery. Focus on good sleep quality, eating well to refuel after your runs, and taking days off to allow your body to absorb the stress from your running and turn it into increased stamina and endurance. 

Some Workouts to Try

Here are some types of runs and exercises you can try to build both your stamina and your endurance:

  • Explosive exercises: Burpees, box jumps, squat jumps and jump lunges all focus on explosive movements that can help develop stamina. Add these to your more static strength training exercises – one session a week should suffice.
  • Max-effort exercise sessions: When you do your strength workouts, alternate sessions where you work out for a number of reps with some max-effort ones. For example, let’s say you can bench press 20 lbs. Instead of doing 3 sets of 8 reps at 20 lbs, start with 5 reps at 20 lbs, then add 4 lbs per each subsequent rep until you get to your maximum possible weight. This overloads your muscles and develops their strength and endurance.
  • 800-meter intervals on the track: 800 meters is an ideal distance for going from stamina into endurance. Going from short speed workouts to 800 meters develops your ability to hold a higher pace for longer. This type of exercise can then be progressed into 1km intervals, or time goals such as 10-minute-long tempo training sessions and beyond.
  • Meditation and yoga: You may be training your strength and speed with your exercise routine, but you also need to focus on mental training. Some easy meditation techniques (download a free app) and yoga for runners videos (there are plenty of good free YouTube channels) will help you deal with stress, anxiety and nerves before races. They will also contribute to developing your mental endurance for long events.
  • Isometric exercises: To focus on sustaining stress for longer periods of time, try some isometrics in your exercise regime. These are exercises where your muscles hold a particular position for a long time – for example, a wall sit or a plank. These target your muscular endurance.

Working On Both Stamina and Endurance to Be a Better Runner

Regardless of whether you’re preparing for a 10k race or an ultra-marathon, training both your stamina and your endurance will yield benefits that make you a stronger, more resilient runner. Ensure that you manage stress levels from your workouts by including adequate rest days and refueling correctly, focus on your mental effort as well as your physical exertion, and ensure you have a mix of running sessions in your regime to hit all the requirements for your race. And, at the end of the day, don’t forget to enjoy – the process as well as race day!

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